It may sound too simplistic, but it turns out that tapping certain parts of your face, hands and body can help relieve stress and anxiety. It even has a formal name: emotional freedom technique, or EFT.
“Like acupuncture, EFT stimulates the major energy points on the body. But instead of inserting needles into these energy hot spots, you tap them with your fingertips,” explains Lisa MacLean, M.D., a psychiatrist with Henry Ford Health. “EFT is an easily mastered technique that can be performed almost anywhere.”
What Is EFT Tapping?
Developed by an engineer named Gary Craig in the 1990s, EFT helps people tune into their emotions while also releasing negative energy. It’s a mind-body technique that involves using your fingertips to tap on key acupressure points. While you tap, you focus on uncomfortable feelings such as overwhelm, jealousy or fear and recite positive affirmations to neutralize them.
“EFT can help reduce stress and anxiety, or help you feel calm when you’re angry,” Dr. MacLean says. Licensed therapists also rely on EFT to help patients navigate trauma, phobias and other mental health concerns.
How Does EFT Work?
EFT is based on the traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) idea that energy flows through channels (meridians) in the body. Practices like acupuncture, acupressure and EFT are thought to help release stuck energy and restore balance.
According to EFT International, nine points are important in standard EFT:
- Side of the hand: The outside edge of each hand, opposite from the thumb
- The eyebrow: The point where your eyebrows begin at the bridge of your nose
- Side of the eye: The bone that lies on the outside of each eye
- Under the eye: Above the cheekbone under each eye
- Under the nose: Directly beneath your nose and above your upper lip
- Chin: The fold between your bottom lip and chin
- Collarbone: The area that marks the start of the collarbone
- Under the arm: About four inches under your armpits on each side
- Top of the head: The point on the crown of your head
The idea is to stimulate these acupoints through tapping while also tapping into uncomfortable emotions. In fact, a critical first step in any EFT session is to identify a feeling or emotion that’s bothering you and create a simple statement acknowledging it, followed by an affirmation.
“You might say something like, ‘Even though I yelled at my children, I deeply and completely accept myself,’” says Dr. MacLean. “Following a negative thought with a positive affirmation helps neutralize it. It also allows us to see the issue for what it really is, rather than our emotional reaction to it.”
Tapping acupoints while reciting these phrases signals the brain that it’s safe to calm down, even while recalling a traumatic event. Over time, EFT can help neutralize traumatic memories so you remember the details of the experience without the heightened emotional response.
The beauty of EFT is that you can do it almost anywhere. If you’re feeling blue or angry, you might find that a brief tapping session helps you feel better. Follow these steps:
- Select a problem: Identify the issue or fear that’s holding you back. You’ll focus on that while you’re tapping. Choose only one issue for each tapping session.
- Rate the intensity: At the start of the session, rate the level of intensity of your problem on a scale from 0 to 10, with 10 being the most intense. With that benchmark in place, you’ll be able to assess the effectiveness of your session.
- Come up with phrases: Before you begin, come up with a phrase that identifies the issue and a second that accepts yourself in spite of it. So something like, “Even though I’m frustrated that I’m sick, I deeply love and accept myself.”
- Follow the tapping sequence: With EFT, you aim to tap on each of the nine meridian points outlined above, about five to 10 times each. Start by tapping the side of your hand and finish by tapping at the top of your head. Recite your phrases while tapping each point.
- Assess the final intensity: Once you finish tapping all nine points, take stock of the intensity of your issue again on a scale from 0 to 10. Then compare your results from beginning to end. Started at 8 and ended at 4? That’s a win! Started at 8 and still at 8? Repeat the process until the intensity level significantly drops.
“As a self-help strategy, EFT has significant benefits,” Dr. MacLean says. “It’s painless, inexpensive, easy to do and less time-consuming than other forms of therapy. Plus, there are no known side effects.”
While EFT is generally considered safe, you might experience an uptick in emotional energy during and after a session. If that happens, talk with your doctor or therapist about next steps. For some people, tapping used with traditional therapy is the best approach.
Interested in using EFT to work through trauma, depression or anxiety? Consider working with a licensed therapist who is skilled in EFT (EFT International has a database of practicing therapists).
Reviewed by Dr. Lisa MacLean, a psychiatrist specializing in adult ADHD treatment at Henry Ford Behavioral Services in Detroit. She is the director of physician wellness for Henry Ford Health, using her expertise to help doctors optimize wellness and find balance by teaching them healthy coping strategies so they can better serve their patients.